NET SENSE: BlackBerry's Sexy Pearl Made Me A Convert

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Note -- this news article is more than a year old.

SAN FRANCISCO (Dow Jones) After eight years of being a loyal Palm user the sexiness of the BlackBerry Pearl became too hard to resist. I've finally converted.

Research In Motion is set to unveil Thursday its latest, and in my opinion, the sleekest and most sophisticated BlackBerry yet. It's called the Pearl.

The Pearl is one of the smallest, lightest and stylish smartphones, measuring about half the size of my Palm (PALM) Treo. It also weighs a delicate 3.16 ounces.

Each time I whip out the phone to show it off to friends, they sport a look of incredulity as if something so elegant couldn't possibly provide enough utility. "Wow. Now, that's sexy," is the typical reaction, followed by: "But how functional is it?"

My typical response: "Very functional." Then I go into the routine of showing them every feature and why I'm convinced that this is the hottest device that'll hit the market this fall. No doubt, others believe this product will be a hot seller as well. RIM's shares have appreciated 25% since trading at $64 at the start of August.

Besides being small and lightweight, the pearl-shaped trackball navigation, the 1.3 megapixel camera, and the minimal $200 cost (plus contract) are among the most appealing features the Pearl has going for it.

While the camera puts BlackBerry on a head-on collision with Treo, and other consumer phones made by Motorola (MOT) , Nokia (NOK) , Samsung, and Sony, to name a few, the Pearl navigation raises this phone well above the pack, in my opinion.

The Pearl navigation is so simple and easy to use that I'm reminded that the simplest of solutions are often the most appealing, despite the many attempts to make them overly complex. The Pearl navigation beats Treo's navigation, hands down, and even RIM's current track-wheel navigation.

As for the camera, it was a smart move by RIM and the first time such a consumer feature was added to a BlackBerry, since the device wowed corporate America back in 1999 with a revolutionary way to access e-mails wirelessly. The camera is a feature that always made the Treo far more appealing than the BlackBerry to me. I've tested at least three BlackBerrys in the past, and while useful, the device lacked the consumer features that would convince me to switch to. Until now, that is.

The camera takes decent enough shots. The utility, however, is the ability to e-mail the photo instantly from any e-mail account. I have set my BlackBerry to operate my Microsoft Outlook e-mail as well as my Yahoo e-mail account. You can also easily set the photos to the appropriate person in your phonebook. Or you can make a photo a screen saver. The device can hold up to 10 megabytes of photos. You can also download photos from your desktop to the device as well. Not all formats are accepted, however. In total, the Pearl has 20 megabytes of media storage for photos and songs. Since 500 megabytes can store roughly 120 songs, the Pearl isn't designed to replace your Apple (AAPL) Shuffle. But it's a convenient way to store a few songs or even transport a few songs from one computer to another. In that way, it works like those mini-storage devices. If you need more storage, you have the option to add a 1 gigabyte memory card.

Other features

The keyboard is based on RIM's SureType technology. Some people may prefer the full keyboard over SureType. But having tested out SureType on prior models, I have to say that this technology has come a long way. To convince skeptics, I've asked them to type in an e-mail without looking at what they wrote. Only after they write a couple sentences do I let them look at the screen to see if the Pearl accurately captured what they wrote. Based on this test -- which I've conducted about 10 times -- most people say that the Pearl understood what they wrote without having to retype the letters. BlackBerry's SureType technology learns how to interpret words based on the calendar and contact information stored in the device. So, if I type "MarketWatch" on my device, the device knows what I mean, and even capitalizes the W, because MarketWatch is in my address book.

To be sure, there are times when I type in a new word and I have to retype it. But this isn't often enough that I would forego all the other great features. Additionally, those with larger fingers than me have found typing easy with this device.

The battery life is 3.5 hours, or 30 minutes shorter than the prior BlackBerry devices. RIM opted to make the battery smaller and forego battery time for weight.

The BlackBerry Pearl will only be available on the T-Mobile service. That service runs on the fast GSM/Edge network, which is faster than my Treo 650, which runs on Verizon's network, so accessing the Web just got a heck of a lot faster for me. But the Edge network is slower than Verizon's EVDO network that the Treo 700 runs on. You can buy the Pearl for $199 with a two-year contract with T-Mobile. The monthly service costs are similar to T-Mobile's other services.

For now, the Pearl is not offered by Cingular. But if you have Cingular and you use a BlackBerry, you might try taking out your SIM card and putting it into the Pearl. It worked for me. The phones go on sale online and in retail stores on Sept. 12.

Another feature I love is the ability to type in someone's name and the contact list popping up automatically. On my Treo, it's a two-step process. First I have to go to my contact list. Only then can I search my contact list for a number or address. The one-step process is very convenient.

Another convenient feature is the ability to view your mobile desktop in different ways. For me, I chose a format that lets me easily see my messages, calendar, phone log and applications. On that tiny screen, I can see the first couple messages coming in from my Microsoft Outlook or other e-mail accounts, as well as what's on my calendar for that day.

Additionally, the voice recognition works fairly well. It's not perfect, but when you can't type in a name while driving, it's worth a try.

The device is not GPS or Wi-Fi-enabled. Nor can it act as a modem, take videos or store videos.

The phone doesn't help me find my car in a parking lot or open my car door either, if I lost my keys.

But heck, you can't have everything. Since I'm now officially a Crackberry, can I really complain?

(END) Dow Jones Newswires"

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